History of the Truffle: A Complete Guide

Have you ever wanted to learn everything there is to know about truffles?

Truffles have taken a long journey to reach the status they have today. If you’ve ever caught yourself wondering about expensive delicacies in the world of cooking (and eating), you’ve probably thought of truffles at least once. But have you ever stopped to think about how that truffle became so famous in the first place?

Truffles have come a long way since they were first discovered!

They’ve traveled far to reach the plates and tables of high-class restaurants, parties, and events, and they’re starting to become a little bit more common on the shelves of markets as well. But what made the truffle so popular when it was first discovered? It’s just a fungus growing on trees, right? Is there anything about it that makes it that special?

The short answer is: yes! The truffle is special for a lot of different reasons. If you’re looking to learn more about these incredible culinary ingredients, you’ve come to the right place. I have a passion for truffles, and I’m ready to share that with you. I’ve put together all the information you need to understand where truffles come from, and how they’ve traveled through the centuries to become the amazing delicacy they are today.

By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll be armed with all the knowledge you could ever want about the history of the truffle. You’ll understand what a truffle really is, and you’ll be able to tell the difference between the most common types of truffle, too. Best of all, you’ll know about the history of both the black and the white truffle, and you’ll be able to understand how truffles are being used today—and where they’ll be going in the future.

...it’s time to learn about the history of truffles!

What is a Truffle?

Before learning about the long journey the truffle has taken to reach our modern society, you should first understand what a truffle really is. Some people think that truffles are just a fancy type of mushroom, but this isn’t really the whole story. While it’s true that they are a kind of mushroom in that they’re a part of the fungus family, there’s a lot more to the truffle than just “glorified mushroom!”

come from the ascomycete family of fungi

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Truffles come from the ascomycete family of fungi, and they’re part of the same genus as lots of other types of edible fruiting plants. They form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain types of trees. The trees provide nutrients to the truffles, and in turn, when they die and begin to rot, they fertilize the roots of the trees. Because of this special relationship, truffles tend to grow beneath the topmost layer of soil, making them tough to find unless you have the help of a dog or a pig to sniff them out.

One of the most notable qualities of the truffle is its cost. Truffles are well known for being some of the most expensive delicacies in the world, and for many people, that cost means that they might never get to try this delicious treat. The cost of truffles is directly related to how difficult they are to find. It’s hard to grow a truffle and requires the perfect temperature and climate as well as the right pH balance in the soil. There is a limited supply of truffles in the world, and every year when truffle season rolls around, they are usually harvested pretty quickly and sold for high prices to reflect their supply and demand.

But just knowing what a truffle is may not enough to completely understand how special these excellent fungi really are. Read on to learn even more!

What Are the Types of Truffles?

There are a few different types of truffle in the world, but most of the time, the word “truffle” refers to one of the two most common varieties: the black truffle and the white truffle. These are the truffles people usually think of when they imagine the expensive variations on these ingredients. However, we’ll take a look at everything that can be labeled as a truffle, so you can better understand what you’re shopping for when it comes time to buy.

 the black truffle and the white truffle

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  • White Truffles – White truffles are by far the most expensive and highly prized type of truffles on the market. They are very rare, and they only grow in certain parts of Europe. The most well-known and desirable versions of this truffle come from Alba, but other specimens have been found throughout Italy as well as in France and Croatia. The most expensive truffle ever sold in the world was a white truffle from Alba, which sold for $330,00 and weighed in at just over 3 pounds.
  • Black Truffles – These are slightly more common than the white truffle, but they are still pretty rare and hard to find. They’re also referred to as the Perigord truffle, after the part of France where they grow most abundantly. If you find a black truffle that isn’t called Perigord, you might want to be a little more selective about purchasing it, simply because it’s hard to tell where it comes from. They are usually harvested in winter, and they can be found in the roots of hazelnut and oak trees most commonly.
  • Summer Truffles – Summer truffles are technically a type of black truffle, but they aren’t as rare or as valuable as the Perigord variety. They can be found throughout Europe, and because of this, they simply aren’t as high in demand. Nevertheless, they’re widely used in cooking, particularly because they’re more affordable and easier to find all year long.
  • Oregon Truffles – These are a type of white truffle that grows in Oregon rather than in Europe. They are not the same thing as a real white truffle, however, and they should never be misrepresented as such! An Oregon white truffle doesn’t have the kind of strong flavor and aroma that comes along with a real white truffle, but it is an excellent alternative for anyone looking to get the texture and notes of truffle without having to spend quite as much to enjoy it. These truffles are not a part of the same family as standard black truffles.

History of the Truffle

The truffle has come a long way since it was first discovered. Long ago, Egyptians used the truffle as an edible ingredient, although there’s no real evidence to prove when it was originally found. Even as far back as ancient Egypt, these ingredients were highly regarded as gourmet food items. They were usually covered in goose fat and enjoyed as a treat on their own, and they were not often incorporated into other dishes at this time.

gourmet food items

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Ancient Egyptians even developed a myth to go with the popularity of the truffle. Supposedly, when a farmer noticed a pig digging in the dirt at a certain tree’s roots, he went to see what was so interesting and found the pig going after a delicious mushroom. Shortly after he ate a bite of the truffle, he and his wife were blessed with several children. The legend states that the truffles started growing at the base of that particular tree because it had been struck by lightning and thus touched by the gods.

Greece and Rome

The popularity of truffles carried over into Greek and Roman times as well. Because of their strong smell and flavor, they were considered to have healing and even mythical properties, and they were often given to upper-class nobles and other important people in order to keep their souls and bodies strong and healthy. At this time, they first started to be incorporated into other dishes and cooked, and the flavors became an accent to other foods instead of standing on their own.

Middle Ages

Of course, a lot of things happened between the time of ancient Rome and today! When the Middle Ages rolled around, truffles started to be viewed as something undesirable. Many people at that time believed they were pagan, or otherwise evil, and should be avoided at all costs. This is probably due to the myth surrounding their discovery and use from centuries prior to this time. They were often also associated with witches, and since witches were considered evil as well, this was a double strike against the validity and use of the truffle.

The Renaissance

After the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance, King Louis XIV brought the truffle back into the public eye. He was very fond of truffles, and because of his high-class tastes, the rest of Europe soon followed suit and began rediscovering this mythical fungus. Louis XIV even tried to grow them on his own, although it didn’t work out very well, and truffles remained as elusive as ever. Throughout his reign, they began to show up more and more frequently in cooking for the nobility.

World War I

After the Renaissance and into the modern world, truffles remained associated with the upper-class. They became much easier to find for a short time, but unfortunately, this didn’t last. As World War I descended upon Europe, many of the trees where truffles had been flourishing for centuries were destroyed, and the land was burned beyond repair. By the time World War II ended, much of the land on which truffles had historically been grown had been completely destroyed, and the truffle crops were long gone.

Today

By the 1960s and 1970s, France started to be more active in their attempt to bring back the truffle crop. They began to develop methods to encourage trees to grow truffles more frequently. Although this is a slow process, and it is still being perfected, it did make a difference in the truffle growth in the area.

Now, truffles are still very hard to find. There are only a handful of places left in Europe where they thrive, and of course, this contributes to their cost. Although we’ve developed a lot in the way of agriculture, we still haven’t figured out a way to fully cultivate and grow the truffle. So much of it is still left up to the acidity in the soil, as well as the amount of rainfall and even the temperature of the seasons, that it’s very difficult to maintain a steady truffle crop.

In the future, we will continue to grow truffles and use them in new and exciting ways. Already, truffles have been included in more than just food and have even begun showing up in skin care products. It’s likely that the future will bring even more uses for truffles, and even better ways to grow them and encourage the cultivation of the crop every year.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You’ve learned a lot about truffles here today. Hopefully, you’ve come across some new information that can help you understand a little bit more about just how special these excellent fungi really are. You should now understand the long path the truffle has taken from its original discovery to your plate, and you might even have some guesses about the new and unique ways truffles are being used today, and will continue to be used in the future.

Now all you have to do is figure out how you plan to use truffles yourself! There are a lot of different ways you can incorporate truffles into your life, and since there are tons of truffle products available these days, you can easily find something that fits into your budget. If you don’t feel like spending a lot of money on fresh, whole truffles, you can always shop around for shavings, truffle butter, or even flash-frozen truffles. In no time, you’ll be putting them in your meals and indulging in truffles like a pro.

Whatever you plan to do when it comes to exploring your relationship with truffles, remember that these tasty ingredients are usually well worth the cost. If you buy them from a reputable source, you can enjoy amazing flavor like you’ve never experienced before.

Now, it’s time to dive a little further into the exciting world of truffles!

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